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Focus Areas

Combatting Plastic Pollution in the Ocean

Enabling systems change through evidence-based and inclusive solutions while facilitating investments in innovation to maximize circularity

The ocean plastic pollution crisis is a complex challenge with far-reaching implications, affecting oceans, livelihoods, and human health. Scientists believe there are 8 million metric tons of plastic entering our oceans annually, or the equivalent of 1 garbage truck being dumped every minute. Ocean plastic pollution stands as a visible symbol of a larger issue: a fractured urban waste management system. Inadequate waste disposal and management of plastic waste in our cities lead to plastics making their way into our waters, ultimately reaching the oceans. Unlike other forms of waste, plastic doesn’t decompose, so it indefinitely remains in the ocean, causing harm to marine ecosystems and human health.

From our dependence on single-use plastic to inefficiencies throughout the global plastic supply chain, we need to embrace the principles of a circular economy to minimize our use of the world’s resources, reduce waste and promote reuse, and reduce carbon emissions.

Our Expertise

For more than 50 years, stakeholders have relied on RTI to develop end-to-end solutions that work together toward a common vision for a circular economy. They include developing bioplastics and emerging packaging solutions for Fortune 500 companies, studying the effects of nano- and microplastics on human health, and facilitating inclusive municipal solid waste management (SWM) planning.

Packaging Solutions

Our experts help commercial clients in manufacturing, med-tech, fast-moving consumer goods, and other sectors to achieve their sustainable packaging goals. Our work spans research and development, technology scouting, production scale-up, consumer applications, and end-of-life regulations. We identify paper-, fiber-, and polymer-based packaging solutions and technologies that reduce environmental impact by facilitating recyclability and accelerated biodegradation.

Developing Tools to Improve Integrated MSW Strategies

Since 2000, our Municipal Solid Waste Management Decision Support Tool (MSW-DST) has enabled our solid waste experts to deliver best-in-class analytical and advisory services that equip municipal leaders with the data needed to evaluate the cost and environmental aspects of integrated MSW management strategies. In Jamaica, RTI experts are leveraging this tool to inform strategies to reduce plastic waste entering marine areas.

Engaging Private Sector to Reduce Plastic Consumption

RTI’s proven Technology Scouting approach systematically identifies external technology solutions to reduce plastic consumption. We define packaging waste reduction strategies, develop customized mathematical models that predict feedstock availability, and identify alternative packaging materials, empowering industry actors with the data needed to reduce their reliance on virgin plastics.

Supporting Our “Unsung Heroes”

According to Pew Charitable Trusts, an estimated 11 million informal sector workers worldwide collected 59% of the world’s plastic in 2016, reducing about 27 million tons of plastic from entering the marine environment. We implement USAID projects that deploy transformative strategies focused on skill-building and entrepreneurial development to strengthen the resilience of informal actors. In Sri Lanka and the Maldives, we are using human-centered design and participatory approaches to pilot interventions to improve the livelihoods of informal workers. We facilitated the establishment of Sri Lanka’s first women-led plastic recyclable collection network and Material Recovery Facility in Dickwella, Matara, with a focus on uplifting individuals and creating income opportunities in marginalized communities.

Understanding the Health Impacts of Nano- and Microplastics

RTI scientists are leading cutting edge research to better understand the impact of nano- and microplastics on human health. Despite the mounting awareness of small-scale plastics in drinking water, beverages, and food products, little is known about potential downstream effects on biological systems. RTI maintains an extensive suite of advanced instrumentation and facilities for analytical chemistry, toxicology, materials testing, and methods development. Through our research and state-of-the-art laboratory facilities, we support clients with data-driven decision analysis to characterize the human and environmental health impacts of microplastics.